One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease is memory loss, but how exactly are memory and thoughts altered and how does this lead to death? It starts with plaquing between nerve cells in the brain.
The plaque is created from protein fragments called amyloid which is naturally produced by the body. In a healthy brain, the protein fragments are broken down and eliminated causing no harm or buildup, however in Alzheimer’s, those fragments are not broken down thereby accumulating to form a hard, insoluble plaque. Within the nerves themselves, there is also structural damage. Picture the inside of a nerve cell to be that of a fiberoptic cable. The cables are mostly made of a protein called tau and the tau is important because it provides structure for the cable to exist. The job of the cable is to transport nutrients from one nerve cell to another. In Alzheimer’s disease, a theory is that the tau protein is abnormal and the cable collapses. As the disease progresses, the brain tissue begins to shrink and the ventricles (area that holds fluid) become enlarged. This makes sense because, now, the nerves are no longer able to exchange nutrients and information, causing literal death of the organ.
Over time, this is when we notice short-term memory being impacted. That is because the hippocampus (part of brain that handles emotion, memory, and autonomic nervous system) is breaking down. The autonomic nervous system is key because that is the messaging headquarters for our unconscious bodily functions such as breathing, heart beating, and digestion. These are things that we don’t have to think about, our brain just knows to do it. The second area affected is the cerebral cortex; this is where judgement worsens, emotional outbursts may become more frequent, and language are impacted. While individuals with the disease can go on to live between months and years after being diagnosed, it is ultimately terminal. Brain health is often overlooked until it is no longer functioning the way we expect it to, so take care of yours by feeding it good things. Feed it good things in every sense of the word: healthy food, healthy relationships, and healthy thoughts.
Your heart is the greatest healer of your life. And your soul is the heart of your life. Let’s start living, folks. Today starts now. Until we meet again, this is Dr. Higgins saying, good bye.